You Look So Much Better in Person: True Stories of Absurdity and Success

Image of You Look So Much Better in Person: True Stories of Absurdity and Success
Release Date: 
July 28, 2020
Hachette Go
Reviewed by: 

“Read Roker’s new book in chapter chunks or in one sitting, and be assured you’ll be a bit wiser and feel better because of it.”

If you’re weary of today’s drear, and sick of conflict everywhere you turn, sit down with this book.

Al Roker, celebrity weatherman on NBC’s Today show for decades, has branched out across media during his career to include writing books. They range from anecdotal and inspirational nonfiction, to murder mysteries, to serious reportage on historical weather events.

This book is anecdotal, as the title suggests. And though it touches on his personal life, it’s really about his extraordinary career. It’s meant to be a feel-good book—and delivers, without being condescending or wishful-thinking.

Roker is one of those rare people with a genuine positive attitude. At the same time, he’s accessible at the everyman level, sensitive to self-doubt and self-sabotage, and empathetic toward these tendencies in others.

He went through early life and career as a fat black guy with thick glasses, during an era when all of those traits should have made him a pariah. Yet he brushed them aside and pursued his own path to a level of success the envy of many—and which he humbly remains thankful for to this day.

Interestingly, he eschewed the determined, organized approach to achievement. “I can tell you I never had a plan . . . In fact, I think if you have a five-year plan you should consider taking a match to it. I have been forecasting the weather for forty years and I can’t necessarily predict tomorrow’s weather with 100 percent accuracy—how the hell would I know what I’ll be doing in five years? Plans are rigid, can easily go awry, and leave little room for fun, adventure, and exploration. I credit not having a plan with some of the best developments of my life . . .”

. . . which he goes on to relate in this book.

Each chapter is a story with a message. They are coyly titled “AL-truisms,” numbered 1 through 16. Each is interesting and/or amusing, pithy, and thought-provoking:

Assumptions Are NOT Your friend.

If You’re Gonna Cry, Know How to Cry

Keep Your Day Job

Know the Cards and Play Your Best Hand

You Encounter More Personalities Than People

A Spoonful of Humor Helps Everything Go Down

Madness without Reason Is Straight-Up Insanity

Get Your Piece of the Pie

Crying in Your Oatmeal-Soy-Almond Latte Never Helps Anything

Get Up an Hour Before You Need To

Don’t Goober Smoocher

Unless You’re *Literally* the Sun, Work Doesn’t Revolve Around You

You Don’t Need to Be the Top Banana

Don’t Freak Out

Never Say No and Say Yes

Build Your Own A-Team

Follow any one of these premises and guaranteed your life will improve.

Throughout the book, Roker is conscious of the changes that have occurred from his own youth to today’s youth. The only disdain that creeps into the narrative comes in this area. Sometimes it’s self-deprecating:

“The AV club guys were my people and we were pretty tight. Let’s face it, who would want to hang with us? Today we would be the internet geeks, running the school website, proficient in coding, video games, and not getting girls. In 1968, it was multi-media rather than social media.”

Other times, it’s general-youth-deprecating:

“It’s easy nowadays to forget that film must be developed, because today teenagers are earning an income equal to the GDP of a mid-sized European country by creating YouTube videos of themselves putting on makeup. But the pre-Tubers like us had to think long and hard about what we wanted to shoot before pressing the button on any camera.”

And still other times he just inserts a neutral aside: “(Ask your parents.)”

In this way, for better or worse, he connects to youngsters and oldsters who bracket his age and era.

Ultimately he speaks to all of us in his discussion of being “second banana”:

“It doesn’t matter that you’re not the star; it matters that you’re part of the constellation. Dream big, set huge goals, and by all means have great expectations for yourself, but know that you don’t have to reach the very, very top to be considered a success. In fact, there’s something to be said about being the second banana. You can forge your own trails and create your own narrative without the strictures of being the top banana.”

In other words, being authentic and pursuing your own thing is the best way to find satisfaction in life.

Nice if you can afford it. Folks with rough backgrounds might find Roker’s take specious. This dissonance is leavened by the fact he did not enter the workforce from a position of advantage. The guy walked his talk, continues to do so—and is credible because of it.

That’s why this is a good book to read right now. It’s short, honest, easy, fair, inspiring, intermittently funny, realistic even in today’s weird world, and relatable for people of diverse personalities from many walks of life.

Perhaps the best advice contained in the book is: “Align yourself with someone who has more sense than you do.”

How many of us wish we’d done that more often!

Thank you, Al. Read Roker’s new book in chapter chunks or in one sitting, and be assured you’ll be a bit wiser and feel better because of it.